11/20/2013 02:15 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

'Momentum for Change' Is Building for Climate Solutions

This post is co-authored by Kelly Rigg and Emily Saari, a writer and researcher for

I'm pleased to be co-hosting an awards ceremony this week celebrating global 'momentum for change' at the United Nations climate talks in Warsaw.

So far, the news out of Warsaw doesn't seem to warrant a celebration. International climate negotiations are still struggling to find agreement amongst governments to curb dangerous global warming.

Tonight, however, I'll be joining the UN Climate Secretariat's Momentum for Change showcase event to commend people working on the ground to create transformational change in ways that can be scaled up over time, replicated elsewhere and bring benefits to communities as well as the climate.

This year's winners include initiatives that spread affordable, clean, renewable energy to the communities which most need them -- like Pollinate Energy which is bringing clean energy to the slums of Bangalore and soon to other Indian cities as well. And initiatives that build climate resilience in the face of growing climate risks such as the Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme.

We also celebrate Initiatives that empower women to lead the way, such as the Ghana Bamboo Bikes initiative.

As the American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

This is what Momentum for Change is about. It helps expose the false narrative perpetuated by those who favor maintaining the status quo -- the people who say that transformational change is too expensive, too difficult, and too soon.

In fact, it's already happening, all over the world, as Momentum for Change shows us.

And if you think that these changes are isolated, or on a scale that is too small to have an impact, consider these 10 facts which show how the numbers are adding up:

  1. Renewables are growing exponentially -- in the 1990s it took 15 years for renewable energy to double its share of the global energy mix, but by 2012 it had doubled again in only six short years.
  2. This growth isn't limited to developed nations. Developing nations are quickly rising to the top of this burgeoning industry. In 2012, renewable energy investments in developing nations totaled 112 billion, just shy of the132 billion invested in developed nations.
  3. The renewable energy sector employs an estimated 5.7 million people worldwide, with high rates of employment in Brazil, China, India, the EU, and the United States. Jobs are also growing in other nations, with an increasing number of technicians and sales staff in off-grid sectors of the developing world. In Bangladesh for example, selling, installing, and maintaining small solar panels employs 150,000 people directly and indirectly. In the U.S. alone, in just three months earlier this year, the clean energy and efficiency sector opened up over 38,000 jobs.
  4. In Germany, where a true energy revolution is underway, the country is expected to get 40 percent of its power from renewables by 2020. Already now, on particularly sunny, windy days, renewable energy can supply around half of the country's electricity needs, with a new record set on October 3 when solar and wind made up 60 percent of the total power generated. Much of the investment has been small-scale making this a people-driven transition.
  5. A solar revolution is sweeping across Kenya, as all-in-one solar energy systems are helping power the lights, radios and phones of households and businesses across the country.
  6. Africa's biggest wind farm just opened in Ethiopia, part of the nation's plans to create a climate resilient economy by 2025.
  7. Mosaic, a U.S. company that connects investors with solar projects, opened its marketplace in January 2013. Within 24 hours, their first three projects had been fully funded through crowdsourced investments from across the country.
  8. The Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign just counted its 150th coal plant retirement in the United States after only four years of work -- which in addition to helping the climate will also help to save 4,000 lives, prevent 6,200 heart attacks and 66,300 asthma attacks every year, and avoid1.9 billion in health costs.
  9. Voters in rural Whatcom County, Washington weren't swayed by fossil fuel money when the industry set its sights on the county as the location for a new coal export terminal. In early November, citizens voted to elect county officials that opposed the export terminal -- single-handedly stopping the export of 48 million tons of coal annually. And on the other side of the world, plans for a7 billion coal mine were cancelled in Queensland, Australia reportedly due to lower international demand for coal.
  10. The fossil fuel divestment campaign spearheaded by and others is growing faster than any previous divestment campaign in history, with recent announcements by Storebrand (the major Norwegian pension fund and life insurance firm), the Dutch bank Rabobank, the Quakers of England, the United Church of Christ, 20 US cities -- including San Francisco, Boulder, Santa Fe, and Providence -- and 8 US universities. And the World Bank and European Investment Bank, two major development funders, have announced stricter limitations on their funding for coal and carbon-intensive power.

Make no mistake, we are still on a pathway to catastrophic climate change, and millions of people around the world are already getting a taste of what climate change has in store for us. Governments have a lot of work to do to get us on track to a safer future.

But surely their work is made easier when citizens get mobilized, when banks change investment and lending strategies and when projects like those honored by Momentum for Change take off all over the world. That "small group of thoughtful, committed citizens," who can change the world is becoming a much bigger group every day.